Published on 8 Oct 2013

Press charter wobble and pause

The phone-hacking saga, the judge-led inquiry, the soul-searching over how to make sure the newspapers keep to certain standards without being gagged … it was all meant to be quietly put to bed with a tranquil meeting of the ancient Privy Council at which the Queen would confer a royal charter on the body that certifies whether self-regulation is working.

But the royal charter that all three main parties signed up to doesn’t have a single newspaper backing it.

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The government at the moment looks like it would be setting up a club that no-one wanted to join and the newspapers (or at least most of the big players) are showing every sign of setting up their own club over the road with different rules.

It is a red hot controversy at the moment and Buckingham Palace is not in the business of conferring the “royal” tag on hugely controversial bodies.

David Cameron has decided that he must try to broker agreement between the three main parties and the press to get a modified version of the royal charter that was agreed by parliament.

That means negotiations and changes and not everyone is up for that. The Tories can’t move without the Lib Dems moving and the Lib Dems are keeping a very close eye on Labour which shows little inclination to move.

Like staring at the sand, you can see some granules shifting. Some in Labour are willing to contemplate changes to arbitration to protect local newspapers and the Lib Dem leader sounds to some ready to engage with all sorts of changes if his party will let him.

But that doesn’t mean there will be a unified conclusion to all this.

There is profound distrust on both sides. Newspapers think that, in the words of one close to the whole process, the recognition panel could be peopled with “Cathcart clones,” a reference to the professor who is a central figure in the Hacked Off campaign and a bete noir of some of the papers.

Until yesterday, it looked like the government/three-party version of the royal charter would be signed off with just a few house-keeping measures to be finalised, like date of commencement, regulator approval charges and the like. Now it’s got a bigger question mark over it.

The prime minister, who is the prime mover behind all this, probably needs to sweet-talk Ed Miliband into opening up some other clauses of the agreed charter and the man who’s just been in a skirmish with the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday may not feel too disposed to help out.

Update: Culture Secretary Maria Miller has announced all three parties have set themselves a four-day essay crisis to tweak/rewrite/compromise* (* delete as applicable) the charter it agreed in March and said then was final and complete.

Labour has signed up to this time-limited and scope-limited rethink.

It’s done so on the basis that it still needs all three party leaders’ agreement and the areas for fresh discussion are limited to who sits on the code committee and the working of the arbitration process.

The homework has to be “in” by Friday. But these deadlines have proved flexible before and the next Privy Council meeting is 30 October so you have to wonder if the timetable will stick.

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    Nobody wants to see a free press muzzled.

    The problem is we don’t have a free press. We have a monopoly-owned far right collection of propaganda sheets. At best, opposition press comprises a sort of low moo of disagreement written by the Hampstead Watch Committee.

    Venezuela showed how to deal with these creeps: vote in a government that will actually make substantial changes in favour of its citizens – then ignore the far right press. You can then gauge how well you are doing by the froth mouthed drivel printed by the neocons, particularly those backed by US Tea Party nutters and Yank Big Business.

    There’s no need to ban them. Just brush them aside through honest and decent legislation. The public will do the rest. Leave the right wing press to die impaled on its own Daily Mail-type absurdity. Don’t buy it….in every sense of the phrase.

  2. Philip says:

    Backing off from stronger regulation of the press! No surprise there! We’re less than 2 years from an election so it’s squeaky bum time for the politicians. Time for Milliband to show what he’s made of.

  3. quietoaktree says:

    Before the Internet, there was no way the average Brit could inform themselves adequately about the ´outside world´ (if they wanted to). The few who do so today are forced to use foreign sites for topics ´un- British´

    The remarks and omissions by the new ´spy chief´ demonstrates the problem.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24454596

    “Without mentioning Mr Snowden by name, he said ”it causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques.

    Doing this, he added, handed the advantage to the terrorists.”

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/british-spy-agency-gchq-hacked-belgian-telecoms-firm-a-923406.html

    ´Belgacom Attack: Britain’s GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm´

    “Belgacom, whose major customers include institutions like the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, ordered an internal investigation following the recent revelations about spying by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and determined it had been the subject of an attack. The company then referred the incident to Belgian prosecutors. Last week, Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo spoke of a “violation of the public firm’s integrity.”

    — The suppression of such news would be justified ?

    “Mr Parker said it was vital for MI5 – and by inference its partner GCHQ – to retain the capability to access such information if the Security Service was to protect the country.”

    –treachery to EU members is apparently of less importance for him —

    -and ´The Guardian´ should be silenced — while the BBC is obeying the ´Self Censorship´ ?

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    An effective restraint on newspaper intrusions would do much to restore credibility to those newspapers. That might halt the long-term decline in their circulations and attractiveness to advertisers.
    Whilst those business gains ought to appeal to profit-focussed proprietors, many scribblers would hate to lose their bully pulpits that provide them with so much personal satisfaction.

    There remains the conundrum of how to ensure the political news agenda is not distorted by ambitious proprietors? Not a fit subject for a newspaper supervisor, I suspect.

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